Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Flowers for Algernon sequence

Eight purple flowers.

Five pink flowers.

Three yellow flowers, two orange flowers and a red flower.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

Fibonacci flowers 2

Thirty-four pale green flowers cover the background maze, interspersed with 21 dark green flowers. The next colour to be added will be cyan (13 flowers).

Did you figure out the Fibonacci sequence? (Or did you look it up on Wikipedia?) Each new number is the result of adding the previous two numbers together, starting with zero and one. Simple, but effective.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fibonacci flowers

The Flowers for Algernon embroidery is back on the worktable. As illustrated in yesterday's blog post, I plan to stitch a profusion of coloured flowers over the maze background, symbolising both the literal flowers that Charlie left on Algernon's grave in the story, and the way those flowers stand as a signifier of the idea of memory and loss in the book. The flowers will be worked in lazy daisy stitch with French knot centres, using the same coloured threads as I used in the Axonal connections embroidery.

Usually when I start to fill a space with stitches, I don't plan too far ahead, but simply apply the needle and thread and see where the embroidery takes me. This time, I decided in advance how many flowers of each colour I would stitch (although I left the placement of the flowers to the whim of the moment). I used the Fibonacci sequence, in reverse, to calculate progressively fewer flowers of each colour, starting with light green (34 flowers) and working back to red (1 flower). There's no real reason why I chose the Fibonacci sequence, except that it represents a natural looking progression. The sequence is 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, and so on.

If you don't know it, can you work out the mathematical basis of the progression? (Answer tomorrow, or on Wikipedia.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Art and mathematics

Yesterday I visited Sydney's Powerhouse Museum where two books linking mathematics and art were launched. A Maths Odyssey, beautifully illustrated by Matt Huynh, traces the history of mathematics from Euclid to quantum mechanics. The other is a collection of works from students of the Thinking Hyperbolically! course at International Grammar School in Sydney. The students used mathematical concepts such as data mapping, ciphers and parabolas to create visual masterpieces such as those pictured here.

You'll have to forgive me for a little parental pride in this post, since my 15-year-old son is a member of the class.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

On my reading list

This book, to be published in Australia next year by Text Publishing, is so going onto my to-read pile. Just underneath Swann's Way.

In the meantime, I'll keep reading the author's blog, The Frontal Cortex.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The end of the path

I spent yesterday in the Culture at Work studio, making the last few lines of stitching on the Paths of Dreams embroidery, shown above beside Dr Adam Hamlin's image of neuronal pathways in a dreaming rat's brain. A detail of the stitching is below: the thread I used is Gumnut Yarns Stars (hand-dyed variegated stranded silk). The lines of stitching are running stitch, stem stitch, outline stitch, chain stitch and padded satin stitch, as well as some whipped back stitch and running stitch. I varied between using one or two strands of silk, so the "pathways" have different textures and tones.

The first thing people ask when I tell them what this work is based on is, "What do rats dream about?" Mazes, I reply, and cocaine.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Beyond/In WNY

More inspiration for restarting work on my Flowers for Algernon embroidery came from a great exhibition I saw in Buffalo, NY, called Beyond/In WNY.

The works of more than 100 artists in various media were on display, and they are well worth seeing if you're in the area. At University at Buffalo Anderson Gallery, I loved Rodney Taylor's slowly disintegrating paintings of trees and landscapes, and getting back to the wilderness with Elinor Whidden's broken-up macho cars. Kurt von Voetsch's exploration of his concept of self through his brain cancer treatment was very moving.

The three artists exhibiting at the WNY Book Arts Center made me laugh and cry at the same time with their subtle and not-so-subtle digs at modern culture and life.

At Buffalo Arts Studio, as well as viewing the exhibited works we were invited to walk through the studio spaces of several other artists. None were at work at the time, but it was interesting to see where art is created, and how other artists organise their studio space (or not). Which reminds me to say, that anyone in the Sydney area is welcome to visit me in the Culture at Work studio at 6 Scott Street, Pyrmont. You'll need to make an appointment -- I'm usually there on Tuesdays but other days can be arranged -- and I'd be happy to show my embroideries and generally chat about creativity, science and Culture at Work. If you'd like to arrange a visit, email me by clicking on my name in the column at right.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A-maize-ing inspiration

I recently visited my sister and her family in the northern hemisphere where it is autumn (fall), and we visited Ressler's Maize Maze near Arcade, NY. Here's my gorgeous nephew heading off to explore the corn maze.We had lots of fun getting lost among the cornstalks. The family who open this maze each year make it more enjoyable by including question clues that give you a brain workout as well. A signpost at one junction asked, "Which is larger, 400 square inches or four square feet?" which was quite difficult for my sister and me, who think in centimetres most of the time; another queried, "Is the tongue an organ?" We argued about that one for several minutes until my brother-in-law resorted to googling it on his Blackberry. He was correct, and I had to admit defeat.

It wasn't really anything particular about the corn maze that led to me being inspired to work on my Flowers for Algernon embroidery again, but it's amazing how exercising your brain and body leads to increased creativity!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Flowers for Algernon revisited

This work was begun very early in the Kingdom of the Blind project, when I reread the book Flowers for Algernon and was thinking about the application of experiments on mice to help us understand human brains. I showed the work, unfinished, at the Culture at Work exhibition in May, but it's been hanging in the studio ever since, waiting for me to be inspired to complete it.

The inspiration for making art is an unknown quantity: sometimes creativity strikes and a work is completed easily and with little effort. This is what happened with most of the other works I've created as part of this residency, even the ones that took many hours of stitching. This maze, on the other hand, started with a burst of inspiration, but then I lost my way through it (pun intended).

I made some effort to finish the work for the exhibition, but I wasn't happy with the result, and recently I unpicked those stitches because they were really just cluttering up the image. I've given it some thought over the past couple of months while I was busy working on other things, but I just couldn't come up with any inspiration to make the next stitch.

The corner, however, has been turned and I can now see my way ahead. I'll post some images over the next few days to share the journey, and I hope to find time to make some progress on the work itself this week too!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Identifying Alzheimer's

This morning's Sydney Morning Herald ran an article from the New York Times on several studies that are trying to discover the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease. One study is on a family group in Colombia whose members often carry a genetic mutation that guarantees that they will develop Alzheimer's, usually in their 40s. The leaders of this project are trying to identify the very earliest brain changes so that they can develop more effective treatments and possibly preventions. The question that must be asked, however, is whether successful identification and treatment in this population can be applied to sufferers of other forms of Alzhiemer's disease.

Several months ago I listened to an interview with Dr Peter Whitehouse, co-author of the book The Myth of Alzheimer's, on Dr Ginger Cambell's Brain Science podcast #68. Dr Whitehouse takes issue with the use of Alzheimer's disease as a blanket name for many different types of dementia, and wonders whether the widespread use of the term obscures the truth about the range of brain changes that it covers.

All well-conducted scientific research adds to our overall understanding, there's no question about that. The results of the Colombian study will be interesting, and it will be great if they are more widely applicable. At the very least, I hope they will allow for a better quality of life for those carrying the specific genetic mutation that casts such a gloomy shadow over this particular family group.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I know my fear of large hairy spiders is somewhat irrational. The huntsman spiders that I really dislike are mostly harmless and often more scared of me than I am of them, while I'm quite content to be within a few inches of a deadly redback spider (they can't move very fast on those little spindly legs, can they?) But the big, hairy, eight-legged beasts really give me the creeps -- possibly because of occasionally sharing a bedroom with a massive specimen or two when I was growing up on our farm.

Therefore, I will not be volunteering for an experiment like this one, because I really don't need an MRI to tell me that the panic centres in my brain would light up if I saw a tarantula crawling towards my feet.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hiatus in the path

Paths of Dreams has been sitting on the shelf in the Culture at Work studio for several weeks now, waiting for me to return my attention to creating art rather than making money to pay the bills. I only had a short time to work on it today, just adding a few more neural pathways to the growing forest of dream trails. I feel that this work will be finished soon; you can see the last few white pencil lines I've marked in to stitch next time I'm in the studio.

Apologies for the poor quality image, I took this on my mobile phone camera.